N Korea food crisis set to continue
North Korea can expect no relief from the food shortage that has left one third of its under-fives chronically malnourished since the start of the year, according to a top United Nations’ humanitarian official.
A summer of bad weather, a structural national food shortage and rising global commodity prices have all contributed to the crisis. Severe food shortages are not new in North Korea: a famine in the 1990s killed over one million people, and food crises such as the current situation are recurrent.
Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, said that “the assessment seems to indicate that this year’s harvest will be about the same or slightly better than last year. The point is that that’s not enough.”
In March, the World Food Programme estimated that 6 million North Koreans were in need of food aid, out of a total population of 24 million. According to current estimates, the annual food gap is around one million tonnes, out of a total need of 5.3 million tonnes. Figures for chronic malnutrition are as high as 45 per cent in the north.
However, the WFP appeal for food aid for this secretive country remains 70% underfunded due to donor suspicions about the reclusive government. There are reports that the regime has siphoned-off food aid to guard against future sanctions, or to feed its one million strong army. The US earlier this month expressed its concern about the food crisis in North Korea, but postponed making a decision about whether to resume food aid over concerns about whether aid would reach the truly needy.
Turkey and Iran to collaborate against Kurdish rebels
Turkey and Iran have pledged to collaborate on the “common problem” posed by Kurdish “terrorists”, as the latest Turkish offensive enters its third day.
This offensive, involving 10 000 elite soldiers and sorties in five areas of Turkey and northern Iraq, comes after at least 24 soldiers were killed in clashes in the Kurdish province of Hakkari on Tuesday. The incidents resulted in what are the biggest losses inflicted on Turkish troops since 1993.
The joint Iranian-Turkish commitment to “totally eliminate” the “terrorist threat” posed by Kurdish militants came as Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi embarked on an unscheduled visit to the Turkish capital Ankara.
This week’s attacks prompted a popular outcry across Turkey, urging the government to do more to quash “terrorism” in Kurdish-dominated areas. In response, Turkish President Abdullah Gul vowed to seek “great vengeance.” Turkey has seen a particularly violent and bloody summer in Kurdish-dominated areas, with numerous attacks and counterattacks leaving dozens of soldiers and militants dead. The conflict, which has been boiling for decades, has killed tens of thousands of civilians and security personnel since 1984.
At the meeting in Ankara, Salehi and his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu, pledged to fight against the rebels “with more serious coordination.” However, neither country gave a clear indication of what this coordination might look like.
Iran has also long struggled to deal with its Kurdish population, and has carried out operations in Iraq’s Qandil mountains. Analysts fear that a high-profile military campaign in northern Iraq risks destabilising the region further.
Southeast Asia flooding kills hundreds, displaces thousands
Severe monsoon flooding has left hundreds dead or missing and thousands displaced across Southeast Asia, seriously disrupting industry and agriculture across the region.
In Myanmar, local witnesses indicate that at least 147 people were killed in flash-flooding in Pakkoku, central Burma, on Thursday. Thousands are thought to have been left homeless, although these numbers remain difficult to verify. State-controlled media has made no mention of the unusually severe rains or flooding.
247 people have been killed in Cambodia, while tens of thousands have been displaced. Meanwhile, Thailand is experiencing its worst flooding in fifty years, with at least 342 people killed since the rains began in July. One third of Thailand’s provinces are now underwater, and flooding in industrial areas north of the capital Bangkok has seriously disrupted output, particularly in the automobile industry.
The crisis is the first major test for Thailand’s recently-elected prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of overthrown former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. She has so far resisted pressure to declare a state of emergency, even though the government’s efforts to divert floodwaters from central Bangkok have only been partially successful.
While the government and civil society have been quick to respond to the crisis, the costs to individual livelihoods and the national economy are not yet known. It is too early to estimate the total damage to the country’s economy, but analysts expect the flooding to cost industry alone $3 billion. The government estimates that 2.4 million people have now been affected by the flooding.
Obama announces US troop withdrawals from Iraq
All remaining US troops will be pulled out of Iraq by December 2011, President Barack Obama announced yesterday – a move which will formally bring the US’s contentious nine-year war there to a close. The decision ends the contentious war that has cost the US over $800 billion, left 3525 American service personnel dead and, according to some sources, over 100 000 Iraqi civilians dead.
Obama provided reassurances that the US and Iraq were in “full agreement” on the announcement, adding that the decision means that “the US leaves Iraq with our heads held high.”
39 000 troops remain in the country after a peak of 165 000 in 2008. The decision to withdraw troops by 2011 was made by Obama’s predecessor, George W Bush, and Obama announced the end of the American combat mission in Iraq earlier this year.
Although there was initially some debate about whether to leave a contingency force of 3-5000 personnel, to provide military training and act as a deterrent to the perceived threat of Iranian influence in Iraq, only a small number of military personnel will ultimately remain in the country. There will be no long-term military training programme.
White House sources said that today’s announcement “will allow us to say definitively that the Iraq war is over.” However, concerns remain over whether Iraqi security forces can maintain security in this still-divided country. It is also not clear that the original aims of the 2003 invasion have been achieved. The peace and democracy the invasion hoped to bring to Iraq are far from evident on many of the country’s streets.